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Santa Maria Sun 2007 Article

Page history last edited by Restorative Justice Partnership 13 years, 5 months ago

Redemption versus punishment
Restorative justice task force seeks to change expel-or-arrest approach to young offenders

Santa Maria Sun, Thursday, September 27, 2007, Volume 8, Issue 28 © New Times Media Group

A trend is sweeping through the Santa Barbara County juvenile justice system: restorative justice.  The aim of restorative justice is to encourage juvenile offenders to take responsibility for their actions by making amends with victims and initiating positive changes to prevent destructive behaviors in the future.


"Restorative justice is not a program, but an approach, a way of thinking about the juvenile offender," said Kimberly Rosa, director of the Training and Restorative Justice initiative at Santa Maria's Conflict Solutions Center.  Rosa said that restorative justice has been used in school systems and juvenile justice systems throughout the county as an alternative to traditional approaches to arrest young offenders or expel them from school.


Voluntary restorative justice alternatives to the expel-or-arrest approach can involve restitution for the damage done, mediation, community service, and even formal dialogues to allow young offenders the opportunity to seek redemption from their victims and communities.  Rosa said that the greatest value of restorative justice is in building empathy in young people.  "Young people are held directly and personally responsible for their behavior in a way that doesn't happen currently. They sit down and hear from people who have been affected by their behavior," Rosa said.


Locally, restorative justice is being offered as a voluntary alternative to traditional disciplinary methods at Peter B. FitzGerald Community School.  The school is entering its third year of using restorative justice philosophy and practices to reduce the number of incidents leading to suspension. The school's goal also is to decrease the number of days students are suspended from school.  Restorative justice has helped the school reach measurable success on both fronts.  Since FitzGerald Community School started using restorative justice, the number of off-campus suspension incidents dropped from 111 in 2004, to 80 In 2005, to 75 in 2006.   The number of days students were suspended from school declined from 371 in 2004, to 118 in 2005, to only slightly higher at 121 in 2006.  The numbers are similar to results reported in other school systems. A study of Minnesota public schools reported decreases in school suspensions by as much as 50 percent. School systems in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston also have reported successful outcomes.


FitzgGerald Principal Bob Chapin said that the school's voluntary restorative justice program has helped the school move away from the traditional approach to punish all law-breakers.  "Restorative justice allows us to take student behavior in the school setting and work with the students as more like adults," Chapin said.  In the past, if a student started a fight at FitzGerald Community School, he or she would be suspended for five days. An expulsion hearing that might or might not lead to expulsion would follow the suspension.  Now, Chapin said that administrators look at the harm that was done on a case-by-case basis and encourage dialogue to involve all parties to find a solution to repair the damage.  "We bring the victim and perpetrator together to talk about what was done and the harm caused. We instruct students to apologize and make restitution," Chapin said. "It's beautiful."  Restorative justice is never imposed on a student. Students at FitzGerald Community School are told they have the option to deal with issues by using restorative justice, or in the traditional way.


Chapin was trained to facilitate the conflict resolution process by the Restorative Justice Task Force of Santa Maria.  Rosa also is a member of the task force, which has about 40 people involved.  The task force was organized about five years ago to educate local policy makers and the larger community about the workings and benefits of the restorative justice approach.  In August, the task force sponsored Santa Barbara County's first forum on restorative justice.  "It's important that the entire community is on board and that we're working together," Rosa said. "The restorative justice movement cannot be operated from a vacuum."


In March, the Conflict Solutions Center received a $30,368 grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation to support the restorative justice partnership initiative. The grant will provide the task force the resources to introduce restorative justice to other schools and organizations.  In the future, the task force plans to implement a formal model of restorative justice that will allow institutions to track and monitor the success of restorative justice programs.  "We want to have restorative justice be built-in, in an institutional way, to the juvenile justice system," Rosa said.


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